Contempt of Court in Westborough Child Custody Cases
When there is an order relating to the custody and support of your children in place, you and your co-parent must abide by all of the terms of the order, unless there is a written agreement between the two of you to modify it in some way. However, in some situations, there is not an agreement and one parent may simply refuse to comply with the terms of the Judgment. Failing to pay court-ordered child support, refusing to return your children at a designated time, or neglecting to take a child to their extracurricular activities are all examples of possible violations if the order stated otherwise. When this occurs, the non-compliant parent may be held in contempt of court. When someone is being held in contempt of court in a Westborough child custody case, they should take this extremely seriously, as the sanctions could be harsh.
If you are facing these proceedings or need help initiating them, do not hesitate to reach out to our extraordinary legal team. With over 35 combined years of exclusive family law experience, our team at O’Connor Family Law is prepared to advise and support you throughout this legal process.
Filing for Contempt in Westborough
Being in contempt means that you (or your ex) have disregarded or disobeyed a prior order that was very clear without a reasonable explanation. Besides the fee for the summons, there is no filing charge associated with a contempt. Once you receive the summons on a contempt, you do need to pay a constable to have it served on your ex. This usually costs between $50 – $100. Many people are hesitant to move forward because they do not believe they can afford going back to court. If you qualify financially, you can file an affidavit of indigency and the Court will waive the costs associated with the filing fee and the service. Most people who hire an attorney will not qualify in relation to having those fees waived, however.
The expense of having an attorney represent you can cause concern to others who are questioning whether they should file a contempt. You do not have to have an attorney represent you in order to file an action seeking compliance with a prior order. That, in and of itself, should not prevent you from protecting yourself. For people who do not feel comfortable going at it alone, there are ways to utilize an attorney that may cost less than hiring one to represent you fully from the moment you hire them until after your case is over. That is with limited assistance representation. Our team at O’Connor Family Law is able to represent people on this type of basis. We do so by either meeting with the person for an hour or so to review their case, helping them fill out paperwork, and help them understand how to present an argument to the Judge. Sometimes people will hire us to represent them on that one court appearance as well, which can cost less than full representation.
Once the complaint for contempt is filed, your case is docketed with the court and assigned a hearing date. The court then sends you (or your attorney if you hired one to file on your behalf) the formal complaint and the summons. This then needs to be served on the other party within a certain period of time before the hearing.
At a contempt hearing for a custody case in Westborough, a judge will listen to the evidence and determine whether the other party’s actions constitute contempt of court. The evidence the filing party presents may consist of their own testimony, the testimony of any witnesses with personal knowledge of the other parent’s actions, and any documentation that demonstrates the violations of the court order. This documentation may include text messages confirming the other parent’s refusal to return the children, a letter from the child’s pediatrician verifying the attempted change in providers, or an enrollment form for a sports activity scheduled during the filing party’s custodial time.
If you have been served with a complaint for contempt and you either do not believe you are actually in contempt or you have a really good reason (such as the other parent agreed to a change but now has taken it back or perhaps you got into a car accident and haven’t been able to work so you fell behind in your support payments, etc.), make sure you have all your documentation and evidence ready to show the Judge to try to avoid being held in contempt. One of our fantastic attorneys can help defend you if you’ve been summonsed to Court on a Contempt action.
Violating a Custody Order
There are various ways a parent in Westborough may violate a custody order and find themselves facing a petition for being in contempt of court. For instance, if your custody order includes a schedule and the other parent deliberately disregards it, this may warrant contempt. Other examples of contemptuous interference with a custody schedule include failing to return the children at the designated times and locations, signing them up for sports and other extracurricular activities during the other parent’s scheduled times without obtaining consent, or refusing to allow the other parent to take the children for scheduled vacations. The language of your prior Judgment is extremely important when determining whether there has been a contempt that took place. This is one reason it is really important to have an experienced family law attorney draft or at least review any agreements that you come to and enter in court. The words used and sentence structure really does matter.
Interference with Legal Custody
In Massachusetts, if you have sole legal custody, you make the final decisions regarding your children’s education, medical, religious, and daycare needs. If your child’s other parent changes your child’s pediatrician, enrolls them in a specialized educational program, or hires a new daycare provider without your knowledge or consent, this parent may be in contempt.
Failure to Pay Child Support
Most custody orders contain a provision directing the one parent to pay a certain amount of child support each week or month. If your co-parent has been ordered to pay support and is not doing so or consistently makes late payments without any justifiable reason, those missed or late payments may constitute contempt.
Penalties for Being Held in Contempt of Court in Westborough
In Westborough, if a court is convinced that one parent is in contempt of a custody order, the court may take certain actions. Some of these actions include:
- Incarceration until the offending party can demonstrate a willingness to fully comply with the custody order;
- The requirement to provide makeup time for any time with the children that was missed by the other parent because of a refusal to send the children;
- Requiring additional payments to be made to start paying back arrears owed;
- Ordering that other property be sold in order to pay arrears;
- Ordering them to pay the legal fees the filing party incurred for the contempt action.
A contempt finding is serious, and the penalties can be severe. It is important that you follow the orders that came from the Court, but if you cannot for some reason, you want to try to stay ahead of a contempt by possibly filing a complaint for modification to protect yourself. If served with a contempt, you also want to follow all the court’s procedural rules relating to an answer.
If there is an ongoing contempt situation, it’s important to file a complaint for contempt at the right time. Depending upon the issue, filing too soon may cause the appearance of being litigious. Waiting too long can cause the appearance of compliance. A knowledgeable contempt action lawyer can help you file a complaint for contempt or represent you in your defense to ensure your rights are being protected.
Contact a Westborough Attorney to Learn About Being Held in Contempt of Court in Child Custody Cases
If you need help filing a complaint seeking for the Court to hold your ex in contempt or if you have been served this type of action, reach out to our legal team as soon as possible. Being held or holding someone in contempt of court in a Westborough child custody case is a serious matter that requires specific arguments that a lawyer can help you prepare for. To get started on your case, call O’Connor Family Law today.